Northfield Fire Department under fire: Consultant issues critical report

In the packet for next week’s Council Work Session is a Northfield Fire Department Operations Review and Risk Management Assessment (PDF) of the Northfield Fire Department by a consultant hired by the City earlier this year after an OSHA inspection raised issues. Public Safety Chief Mark Taylor wrote in his intro to the Council:

Northfield Fire Department Operations Review and Risk Management AssessmentThe City Council is being asked to receive the attached report that is a result of an in depth overview of city fire department operations.

There will be some future action items where the council will be requested to make fire department operational changes. That formal request will come at a future city council meeting.

The Nfld News has this story in today’s paper:  Report: Fire Department not complying with state, federal regs:

A report issued this week could forever change the Northfield Fire Department. In the 21-page document, consultant Michelle Soldo found that the department failed to meet federal Occupational Health & Safety Administration standards regarding the establishment of a fire department, its structure as well as its training schedule.

Soldo found 19 other areas of concern dealing with a lack of Standard Operating Procedures, governance, selection of the fire chief and departmental leadership, physical agility, hiring, performance reviews, compensation, discipline, record-keeping, facility maintenance and use, space needs and equipment maintenance.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News: Council must OK adding Fire Department staff

    But the remainder, including a recommendation to hire a full time administrator for the department, will need City Council approval and could entail some budgetary shifting.

    And while Councilor Betsey Buckheit found that the report insinuated that the changes, including the additional position, was a forgone conclusion, Madigan assured the council that the topic would be discussed as it works to formulate Northfield’s 2012 budget.

    Madigan last week didn’t have a salary estimate for such an administrator, but during Tuesday’s council meeting Public Safety Director Mark Taylor said that if approved, he’d look to hire an administrator who is familiar with fire departments. That person would report to the public safety director.

    The position could be similar to a fire chief, said Soldo, or the positions could be completely separate. Either way, it’s a necessary addition, she said.

    June 29, 2011
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News editorial: Fire department changes worth the effort, money

    Northfield now has a part-time chief who serves as the department’s leader and administrator. With frequent changes in regulations, requirements and laws — and in a growing city of 20,007 — the current model no longer works.

    And while that may be, the city must balance these issues with the challenging economic environment.

    Making the changes Soldo is suggesting won’t be easy — or inexpensive — but ensuring Northfield maintains its standing as a top notch fire department will be well worth it.

    June 29, 2011
  3. Ross Currier said:

    Griff –

    In my personal opinion, the way that this story was initially introduced and later editorialized seems to imply that Northfield citizens are at risk due to some problems with the Fire Department. However, reading beyond the headlines and opening paragraphs, makes me think that this is not the case.

    The OSHA report “found the Fire Department’s sleeping quarters, where up to three firefighters reside, had no smoke detectors, she also noted unkempt areas in the department’s portion of the building, a workbench with power tools — personal belongings of one firefighter — and improperly stored materials.” It goes on to note that corrections were to be made by May 25th. I am glad that smoke detectors were installed in the sleeping quarters.

    The report also “found 19 other areas of concern dealing with a lack of Standard Operating Procedures, governance, selection of the fire chief and departmental leadership, physical agility, hiring, performance reviews, compensation, discipline, record-keeping, facility maintenance and use, space needs and equipment maintenance.” My first thought was that perhaps some agility exercises could be added to the firefighters’ workouts.

    The Saturday night update to the article quoted Public Safety Director Mark Taylor: “The majority of problems cited in the report were administrative in nature, he said, but need to be implemented to assure the department follows accepted procedures as well as city, state and federal laws.” I wondered if there might be some capacity at City Hall to provide administrative support to the Fire Department to help them keep their paperwork in order.

    I recall hearing that the fire department’s I.S.O. (Insurance Service Office) rating (an apparent quantification of the department’s ability to respond to fires) is largely determined by equipment, training, and water pressure. It doesn’t seem that any of these factors were cited in the report.

    June 29, 2011
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Ross is absolutely correct in his assessment.

    Last night at the council meeting, I heard the consultant go through her report; as reported , most if not all of the operating procedures corrections will be completed by July 11, and it was stated that the revised SOPs would satisfy the OSHA requirements. (those SOPs were corrected through an internal process with the Deputy Chief’s work)

    The concerns with the by-laws can all be easily internally corrected; and the space needs have been recognized for a long time,being the primary concern to be addressed by a new fire hall.

    The ‘biggie’ is the administrative need of the depts, both police and fire, and those have also been recognized for some time.

    Here’s my question: Why did ANYONE think that a Public Safety Director Dept Head could be created (Through the City Hall staff reorganization last summer) and have that person be also the acting Police Chief, handling the daily police work and the administrative duties of both fire and police ???

    This was an organizational boondoggle from the very beginning; former Administrator Walinski should not have proposed such an impossibility, and the Council should have had a deep discussion of the staff reorganization, rather than just approving it.

    This is a very smart Council, and now there are four who think pretty much alike; but they still act as if they are intimidated by the “You’re micro-managing” threat… Can they just say, “NO, we are not micro-managing, we are managing, and it is our responsibility as elected representatives to make the governing decisions, which the staff will then implement… thank you very much for doing so” !

    Last night they also discussed the physical changes to be made to the interior of City hall, some of which have to do with the staff reorganization.

    The Council needs to discuss that staff reorganization, and decide if it still is a concept that works for them.
    With Brian O’Connell (Comm. Development Director) leaving mid July, Jody Gunderson will be taking over that position which will now encompass all of EConomic Development, Community Development, and Planning.

    It has already been said that some of that department’s work will be outsourced to Bolton & Menk, Engineering; it being obvious that one person cannot handle what was done by 3-5 people previously.

    Where is the Council in these defining discussions? Not evident, unfortunately…

    June 29, 2011

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